Programming isn’t really a thing, yet most people buy into the hype of online programming. Don’t let this be you!
Powerlifting is an ever-evolving sport. Starting as a strength sport only for those daring enough to suit up in multi-ply gear, powerlifting has gained enough popularity that just about anyone interested in working out has started to adopt powerlifting into their training.
Over the past decade, the volume of powerlifting meets across the country has more than doubled, and the number of participants is growing at an exponential rate. Add the advent of Instagram and Facebook, and now, just about everyone on the internet is a superstar powerlifter looking for their big sponsorship.
Because of this growth in popularity, it seems that now, just about every “coach” out there is creating their own program, promising better gains than the last and in a shorter time.
Google search “powerlifting program” and watch as pages and pages of programs, workouts, “experts,” and training logs filter in, each promising huge results and most costing a monthly rent.As a coach, I am ecstatic that this world of opportunity has opened up and the ability to sell powerlifting is much easier than in the past.
As a coach, I am ecstatic that this world of opportunity has opened up and the ability to sell powerlifting is much easier than in the past.
However, as a coach with a scientific background, I get frustrated that people buy into the hype of online programming and avoid local coaches because they don’t have the total that some of these superstar coaches have.
The fact of the matter is this: programming isn’t really a thing. It all works for some extent of time. What it comes down to as a coach is organizing training into a yearly fashion and coaching and improving the actual movements themselves.
With the thousands of different programs out there, the different set and rep schemes, and the different ideas of intensity, keep in mind that they all work. Any program will work to some extent as long as you can move well and you take care of your recovery.
However, if you try to train like a drug-enhanced lifter when you are not, you will eventually break down because there is a different amount of load and volume those people can handle. Instead, buy into training and lifestyle management and not just programming.
A real program would be a specific bunching of sets and reps; instead, it would be a map incorporating the principles of strength training and applying them at the right time in the right fashion.
These principles are what science has proven to be the affecters of strength gain, not the 5×5 method or Cube method, specifically.
The number one factor that contributes to strength gains is the principle of overload.
The principle of overload states that a continually increasing stress must be placed on the muscle as it becomes capable of producing greater force or has more endurance (1). If we were to keep lifting the same amount of weight for the same amount of reps, there would eventually be no strength gain or improvement.
Progressive overload can come in many forms from added load, increased volume, and increased time under tension. Also, varying types of exercise can be considered progressive overload as well. An example of progressing an exercise would be a deficit deadlift compared to a classic deadlift.
The increased range of motion is an overload to the body, and a strength gain can be seen from this slight change.
A big factor in terms of progressive overload is managing the cycle throughout a yearly basis. We are not set up to just continually gain max strength, as we need to have different cycles within the season to focus on different aspects of the sport.
An off-season cycle should focus more on gaining muscular endurance, muscular size, and a variety of training, and as we come closer to competition, we should add focus to strength and the specificity of sport.
I SAID It
Specificity is a key factor in the progression of strength.
What is SAID?
SAID is the acronym for specific adaptation to imposed demands.
Basically, that means there must be a similar training activity to the sports movement in order to get the most positive transfer (2).
For powerlifting, that means the competition squat, bench, and deadlift must be trained for single reps for the greatest amount of improvement. Doing a front squat has its place in training, but it cannot replace the back squat because of this principle.
Different periods of the year can allow for less specificity to address weaknesses and detour from the monotony of training, but this is where periodization comes in.
Have an Annual Plan: Period(ization)
I won’t go into the full depth of periodization because that’s a whole other topic.
Pro Tip: Read “What Everybody Needs to Know About Periodization” to get more info on periodization, the types, and how to use it.
What I will say about periodization, though, is it must be used. There must be a specific focus at a specific time of the year.
An off-season should consist of more volume to build muscle, work on weaknesses, address injuries, and improve range of motion. As we near closer to a competition, specificity becomes a necessity.
A strength block will drop volume and focus closer to competition lifts. Then, as a peak enters, the volume drops to be as specific as possible to a meet, and the movements then become the competition lifts themselves.
This is where a coach has to plan and organizes for the highest results. We as lifters are just unable to linearly add volume and/or load. At a point, we begin to breakdown and see less and less adaptation.
This is called the principle of diminishing returns. It is again the annual planning that allows us to avoid this negative effect and continue training with positive gains.
How Do I Train without a Program?
I hope I have made you think. I understand that we all follow some type of program when we train.
An annual plan consists of a number of programs within a year’s time. A program is our roadmap to a successful competition.
What I want you to understand, though, is that all of these programs on the internet are just sales pitches and cookie-cutter programs. They all use the same principles in some fashion and, when broken down to the basics, are all the same thing.
So if that’s the case, why not get a coach that can use those same principles but in a specific manner to you, your goals, and your annual training schedule.
The program is not the silver bullet; instead, it’s the gun that houses the silver bullets that are the training principles addressed in this article.
I challenge you all to stop buying into the hype of a big name and start to delve more into the science of the sport. We are evolving as a sport, so let us evolve in the right direction with a backing of proof.
- Fleck, Steven J. Designing Resistance Training Programs. Second Edition.1987.
- Baechle, Thomas R. Earle, Roger W. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Third Edition.2008.